Anyone reading James Hicks’ Jan. 20 review (“Speak out for ‘universal’ standards“) of the recent exchange of letters between him and me, and who had not read all the letters, might assume that I was an obsequious cultural relativist who was trying to justify the video rape game that Mark Soni of Maryland had objected to in his Dec. 19 letter (“Cultural hedge against immortality“).
I agreed with Soni about that video. What I didn’t like were the conclusions that Soni seemed to draw from this game about Japanese “culture.” This was the point of my statistical comparison of crimes committed in the United States and Japan.
Why must Americans draw demeaning conclusions about Japanese culture from its worst manifestations? Do we want broad conclusions drawn about American culture because there are at least nine times as many murders per capita in the U.S. as in Japan? And, by the way, does anyone doubt that there are also more rapes per capita in the U.S.?
Hicks makes a valid point: Cultural relativism is unsupportable. I doubt that even cultural anthropologists refrain from passing judgment on such practices as the stoning of adulterers. (Refusing to step in does not imply acceptance.) And I object to rape, abuse and gender inequality on both sides of the Pacific, all across Eurasia and down through Africa. I just don’t think Americans are in a position to draw conclusions about Japanese culture from the existence of offensive video games, something that Hicks does more flagrantly than Soni.
It’s always dangerous to make generalizations about another culture, and we had better stick to the facts when we do. One fact, just in Japan’s university system, is that sekuhara (sexual harassment) has been a cause celebre for several years now. Some Japanese women certainly do report it.
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